Veggie Rx Comes to Bend

“We want people to value good local food and support local farms,” Brzozowski said. “We want to start the conversation that food is medicine.”

Read on below or check out the full Bend Bulletin article here.

A new program in Bend is allowing health care providers to prescribe fruits and vegetables to people with poor access to fresh foods or who are in need of a healthier diet.

The High Desert Food and Farm Alliance recently partnered with local medical clinics to launch a local version of an Oregon program called Veggie Rx. The eight-week program here will provide eligible people with $20 vouchers to buy produce at the Bend Farmers Market on Brooks Alley. Each recipient will get slightly more — a $45 voucher — on the eighth week, making the total value $185.

Hannah Brzozowski, a registered dietitian and a community health worker for High Desert Food and Farm Alliance, said the alliance was inspired by other Veggie Rx programs across Oregon that offers vouchers to grocery stores, such as La Pine Community Health Clinic. HDFFA’s Veggie Rx program differs slightly by offering vouchers at the farmers market, tying in a connection to the region’s farmers, she said.

“We are supporting our farmers market while serving our community and people who do not have the best access to food,” Brzozowski said. “We are trying to make it full circle.”

The program will start Wednesday at the farmers market. So far, about 25 people have signed up for the 66 spots available.

The program is funded through grants from PacificSource Foundation for Health Improvement, the Central Oregon Health Council and Pacific Power Foundation.

Brzozowski is creating a schedule to invite groups of 12 to each farmers market and staggering the groups throughout the summer. The first group will attend the farmers market Wednesday and the second group will start June 20.

The smaller groups will allow Brzozowski, and other program workers, to spend one-on-one time with the participants, teaching them how to purchase, prepare and cook fresh food. In addition, she will offer nutrition education resources.

“I’m calling these people every week and developing relationships with them,” she said. “They are not just getting vegetables and fruits. They are getting access to information that can hopefully change their dietary habits.”

High Desert Food and Farm Alliance reached out to about 40 medical providers in Bend — including the cardiac rehabilitation center at St. Charles Bend, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and various dietitians — and asked them to send patients to Veggie Rx.

When the providers meet a patient who could benefit from the Veggie Rx program, they put the person in contact with Brzozowski and have them fill out an eligibility survey.

The people targeted for the program are those experiencing hunger and obstacles to accessing healthy food or those dealing with diet-related diseases, such as diabetes.

In Central Oregon, nearly 30,000 people are without reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food, according to the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance. And that often relates to chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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